Thu, Dec 23, 2004
But Not As Far As Planned
To hear Boeing tell it, Tuesday's launch of the massive Delta 4
heavy-lift rocket was a success. But the dummy payload it carried
is in the wrong orbit, the result of a shortened first-stage burn.
Success appears to be relative.
The 23-story tall rocket lifted off pad 37B late Tuesday
afternoon (above). Five-and-a-half minutes later, the first stage
engine shut down -- somewhat before it was scheduled to do so. At
this point, no one knows why.
"The first stage burned a little shorter than we expected,"
Boeing spokesman Robert Villanueva told the Orlando Sentinel. "The
second stage burned a little longer to make up for it."
Because of that, the second stage didn't have enough fuel to
properly insert the 6.7-ton payload into orbit, 22,000 miles above
Not only did the rocket fail to boost its payload into the right
orbit, signals from two small probes built by students from Arizona
State University and the University of Colorado were never received
by ground stations. They were supposed to be released from the
rocket about 16 minutes after launch. It's unclear if they were
ever actually released.
The Boeing launch comes on the heels of Friday's successful
mission involving a rocket from the Chicago-based company's
arch-rival, Lockheed-Martin (above). It was the fourth successful
launch of Lockheed's Atlas 5, which carried a communications
satellite safely into space.
That puts the pressure on Boeing to find the cause of Tuesday's
miscue and identify steps that will prevent it from happening in
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